Third Week of Lent

Samaritan Woman at the Well

Who is God? What is God like?

How do we describe God? Does God change?

Today’s readings challenge our concepts of God. With all that we have read and prayed and studied over our lifetimes, today might be an appropriate day to challenge how we think about God.

First and foremost in today’s readings was John’s gospel describing the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. Culturally this was a shocking experience for people “back in the day” of Jesus. It was a shocking experience on several levels: Jesus was talking with a woman in public; he was talking with a woman in public who was a stranger; the stranger was a woman from Samaria, a group of people that was generally out of favor with Jews. All unusual events! Another unusual aspect was that Jesus chose to go through Samaria on his way from Judea back to Galilee. Most of the time, Jews traveled around Samaria, not wanting to go through it.

One scholar’s research that I found pointed out that some translations for this passage use the word “had”; that is, Jesus had to go through Samaria. Actually, it was not geographically necessary to walk through Samaria; there was a way around it. The Greek word for “had” meant in this phrase that he wanted to go through Samaria; and additionally, the sense of this Greek word is a wish or a desire, not a necessity. For example, if I said “I just had to have that new dress”; it does not mean I need a dress, but that I really want that dress; it’s something I desire. Why would Jesus really want to go through Samaria? I think it’s because this is another one of the many occasions in Jesus’ life where he went out of his way to encounter those who were culturally unacceptable to many people.

I found two more additional ideas in my reading from another source that adds more information about this situation: 1) first, the Samaritan woman at the well was the first person to whom Jesus openly revealed himself as the Messiah. He said to her: “I am he, [meaning the Messiah], the one who is speaking with you”. Imagine, he made this statement to a Samaritan woman! She was the first person to hear directly from Jesus, that he claimed to be the long awaited Messiah.

2) second, this is the longest private conversation recorded that Jesus had with anyone in the New Testament. Again imagine, a Jewish man having an extensive conversation with a Samaritan woman in public!

Why do all of these facts matter? It matters because I believe it demonstrates how important it was for Jesus to think outside the box, to reach out to those who lived far beyond the boundaries of the norms of his culture. Jesus was introducing people to new concepts about God.

As I was reading and writing for today’s reflections, I wondered: “what was the name of the Samaritan woman”? I felt deep inside me that I really wanted to know her name, but no name was given in this passage. Have you noticed how few women are ever mentioned in scripture? And how even fewer women had their name recorded in scripture? Again, I think Jesus went out of his way to approach this woman, honoring her with his presence, his words, and his hope for all peoples. I think Jesus wants us to go out of our way to think outside the box, to search for people outside the norms of nationality, or culture, or church, even outside of family, or of friends. Jesus sets the example for us to not put limits on our concept of God.

Following Jesus means so much more than quoting passages from scripture or quoting rules that used to be helpful in society or in the church. We can follow the example of Jesus who made courageous choices, such as in today’s story with the Samaritan woman. During his life, Jesus opened the door to spread good news about God’s love for all of humanity, not just a few. Jesus chose to walk through Samaria, or perhaps he felt called by God to walk through Samaria, he also sat at a public well, he conversed with a woman, he conversed with a Samaritan. He made surprising choices in his day that speak of courage as well as love for the people he came to inspire.

During the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, he offered her “living water”, which she gradually began to comprehend was God’s love and care for her. She already believed that a Messiah would come some day; on this day at the well, she proclaimed Jesus to be a prophet. Jesus saw Samaria as a landscape to proclaim his divine calling to sow the seeds of faith everywhere.

We have been blessed to possess many freedoms in our culture. And we have chosen to use our freedom at HF church. We share our time and talents by being active members of HF church, by welcoming all people who wish to join us in good faith. Like St. Paul, we can boast about our accomplishments because we have reached out to those who are marginalized around us; for one example, our micro food pantry. We accept people of all walks of life, not judging them, but accepting them in the same way that Jesus accepted the Samaritan woman at the well.

God’s love overrides confinements of race, gender and nationality. Jesus accepted and related to all, no matter their race, gender or nationality. As St. Paul wrote, “Hope does not disappoint us”. We live in the hope that all people of good faith can some day be welcomed into the Roman Catholic Church, that both women and men can be honored as equals in the Roman Catholic Church. Our hope is being realized at HF as we try to live by the same faith and courage that Jesus exemplified during his life on this earth.

We can take this time during Lent as an opportunity to give thanks for the example of St. Paul and Jesus and so many others who evangelized outside of the cultural and religious norms of their day. Perhaps we can try to reach out to one person this week, to share with them about our new found freedom as a member of HF. We know that a small spark can open up into an entirely new way of experiencing community as we have found in our church. Also, a significant opportunity to reach out to others exists these next few weeks through the Synodality in Central Illinois process, where 87 people so far have joined the facebook page created by Dan Frachey for “Synodality in Central Illinois”. This sizeable number says to me that people are eager to listen and dialogue about their experiences in the Catholic Church as well as their desires and hopes for the future of the Catholic Church.

We can take to heart today’s gospel words of John: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” Let us continue to share our living water of faith and courage with others.

Homily shared on Saturday, 19 March 2022, by Rev. Katherine Elsner.